“Show us what more you can do that we did not imagine you could!”, said the people to Modi.
In the aftermath of Narendra Modi’s massive victory, it is tempting to think of this electoral victory as an emphatic answer.
It is tempting to think of the mandate as an answer from common Indians to those who keep trying to play up caste divisions, an answer to the politics of dynasties, an answer to the politics of privilege and entitlement, an answer from the majority to those who keep pushing minoritarian agendas, an answer from a country surrounded by inimical forces to the question of who is best placed to keep them safe.
A 260 to 280 sort of victory, which would have been a repeat of Modi’s 2014 performance, could have been called a mandate that is an answer to the above series of questions. However, 303 cannot be an answer. More than an answer, this decision of Indians to give 303 seats to Modi is a question, or perhaps, a series of questions.
Indians have posed a series of questions to Modi, the kind of questions that doting but expectant parents pose to their prodigious children.
This victory reminds me of a particular interaction I had with the director of the consulting arm of my erstwhile workplace whom I used to report to.
My company, as part of performance appraisals, used to rate people in four categories — ‘outstanding’, ‘exceeds expectations’, ‘meets expectations’, and ‘needs improvement’.
I had notched up the ‘exceeds expectations’ rating for the second successive time and was quite chuffed about it. Well, who wouldn’t be, especially if it was just in the third year of your career and you were possibly looking at a good salary hike because of it?
However, this particular director decided to have a sobering, but in a way, inspiring conversation with me.
He said, “So you have exceeded expectations yet again?”. “Yes”, I replied.
“Do you realise the meaning of this?”, he asked. I had the good sense to stay silent then.
He dropped what was a truth bomb on a 24–25-year-old. “The meaning of this is, if you exceed expectations in the next year, you are still in the ‘meets expectations’ category because you were anyway expected to exceed expectations.”
I realised that what I had shown I could do and my company’s appreciation for what I could do, was not an answer but a question, a challenge posed to me. “Show us what more you can do” — it said.
A similar conversation has happened between the electorate and Modi.
“Here’s my work. I made India the fastest builder of highways in the world, I build 1.5 crore afforadable homes, I built 10 crore toilets and took the sanitation coverage to almost 100 per cent, I electrified almost every home, I showed the guts to do a Balakot….”, and so on, Modi presented his progress card to the people.
“We like what you did and for that, here, take 272 so that you can continue to do your good work. But wait, don’t go and start working as yet! We know what you can do. However, here are 31 more seats for you. It makes it 303, something we haven’t given anyone for 3 decades. Show us what more you can do that we did not imagine you could!”, said the people to Modi.
Modi, the astute politician, I am sure knows that this emphatic victory is not an incremental win but an electoral revolution of sorts. To win 303 in the times of a fragmented polity much unlike the times in which the Congress used to notch up such numbers is huge. It is not a conditional approval but a blank cheque of sorts. “Write the amount you want, do whatever you want with it but ensure you do something that can be remembered for centuries”, the people are saying.
Lesser men would crumble at such an offer that cannot be refused.
Be careful what you wish for because you may just get it, it is said. Many a time, when destiny gives us what we want, we don’t know what to do with it. Arvind Kejriwal, a politician who was, at one time, touted as Modi’s competition but has now been reduced to a ranting shipwreck of a politician, is a prime example of this. The people of Delhi gave him a massive mandate but a small-minded man like him just got buried under the weight of the blank cheque because he could never quite figure out what to fill in it.
This is where Modi is different. The people know Modi is nothing if not ambitious, they know that Modi is nothing if not someone who has set his sights upon creating something that he can be remembered for centuries later. They also know that if there’s one person in contemporary politics who can do great things worth being remembered for, it is Modi. They know that he is also a hands-on man who can translate ideas into action and take them to their logical conclusion.
He more than justified his 2014 victory and managed to secure even more than that in 2019. The people are happy but not satisfied, in that, they want to see what other peaks Modi can scale. The people think Modi deserves at least five more years to decide India’s destiny and his own.
This 303 is thus a question from the people, and not an answer.
But what is it that Modi will do as a reply to this massive mandate to create a lasting legacy? That is the question Modi will answer over the next five years. Interesting times ahead.